Holmes, Bookshop notes Nov. 2014

Some updates on my Sherlock Holmes collection, with a visit to a new Lakewood business on the way…

After keeping my eye out for a copy for some time, I finally picked up A Study in Sherlock recently. This is now item #44 in my collection.

This is as good as I could have hoped; I believe it’s the best Holmes anthology I have read so far. (Maybe Exploits of challenges it, but only if two authors counts as an anthology.) Great variety, with a lot of tangential extrapolations of Holmes of a more thoughtful nature than, e.g., “let’s do a Holmes story but with Martians/ghosts/zombies.” No doubt these things can be good, but the inherent novelty of this kind of mashup wears off rapidly and I think you’ve got to work very hard to add some other merit. The inventive approaches in A Study in Sherlock, by contrast, offered both freshness of concept and, in most cases, quality of writing.

Lots of good stories here, and even a short, delightful comic by Colin Cotterill. Neil Gaiman will be the headline contributor for most people, and I enjoyed “The Case of Death and Honey” though I’m not quite sold on the premise. Perhaps I’m just nettled by any stories that revolve around “explaining” some major element of the canon that the author finds unpersuasive. I don’t think I’m fundamentally opposed to such efforts, but my reaction here was similar to my objections to The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, if not quite as intense. Anyway.

This purchase was on the whole a fine investment, and all the more pleasant as it was my first ever purchase on my first ever visit to a bookstore right here in Lakewood. The Bookshop in Lakewood arrived this fall, just down the street from me, and I’m very happy that it’s here. Honestly I have never been a big bookstore visitor, but I like the idea of a plucky local store, and with all the mom-and-pop storefronts in Lakewood it has really felt like the city needed someplace like this. Now we have one, and I hope it will thrive. I’ll certainly go back.

A Study in Sherlock was also a satisfying acquisition because I haven’t really made any other noteworthy additions to my collection since the video games acquired earlier this year. Encounters of Sherlock Holmes, the anthology I received for my birthday, was the opposite end of the spectrum from Study in Sherlock. Including stories pairing Holmes with Martians, Frankenstein’s monster and Oscar Wilde (not all at once), the effect in each case was meh, as was the collection as a whole.

Since then I believe my only pick-up was at the library’s fall book sale. A couple of times I have struck gold, there, but on this occasion the Holmesian pickings were slim. I brought home a copy of The Italian Secretary, by Caleb Carr, mostly because there were no other Sherlock items I don’t already own. As it is, I had already read this one and found it, too, fairly mediocre. While it has its moments, The Italian Secretary loses me in at least two major aspects. First, Holmes the determined rationalist—in fantastic contrast to his creator’s Spiritualist advocacy—does not benefit from an inexplicable playfulness on this topic. If one wants to employ artistic license to speculate on Holmes confronting indisputable evidence of the supernatural, that’s one thing; the arbitrary goofing around that Carr assigns Holmes is another, and does not pass muster.

Second, if you’re going to give Holmes opinions on Elizabethan queens… in itself a leap, for the misogynist (by modern standards) and educationally myopic (at least in the early stories) Holmes… the idea that he would discuss Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots, and leave a listener with even the possibility that he had a higher opinion of MQS, is fucking ridiculous.

Sorry; I’m not sure yet how much I want to curse here, but really. Holmes might criticize Elizabeth for any number of reasons, prejudiced or otherwise. But if by chance he were to remark upon Queen Bess and her cousin at the same time, he would surely offer the (legitimate) opinion that Elizabeth was a leader of outstanding merit compared with Mary Queen of Scots, who was a clueless, blundering idiot.

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